Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Will the Next Great Gathering Be Show of Unity?

I am sorry to be the one to put a damper on what will surely be a monumental achievement. But for me truth always trumps seeing the world through rose colored glasses. I have written about this before.

Agudah spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran justifiably trumpets a great achievement in Jewish learning, the upcoming Siyum HaShas celebrating the completion of Talmud Bavli learned in Daf Yomi. This is a program  where a Daf - also called a Blatt or ‘leaf’ (2 sides of a page) is studied every day for 7 and a half years. I along with tens of thousands of Jews around the world have been participating in this enterprise. I will be completing my third cycle and will have gone through Shas 3 times. (Or as I like to put it – Shas will have gone through me 3 times.)

It was Agudah that initiated the project back in Europe – at least in its current incarnation. Rabbi Meir Shapiro suggested the project at the first international conference of Agudah held in Vienna. The idea was that Jews around the world learning the same page of Talumd every day would have a tremendous uniting effect upon us.

This phenomenon has now exploded. Due to the advent of Community Kollelim that offer high quality Shiurim in Daf Yomi – which has spawned many other such Shiurim; the creation of the ArtScroll Gemaros; and a general increase in interest of Torah study in the Jewish world, many people have joined in this learning experience. Even Yeshivat Chovevei Torah (YCT) Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Dov Linzer gives an excellent Shiur in it. There are hundreds of Daf Yomi Shiurim given in virtually every segment of Orthodoxy, from ultra-Charedi to ultra left wing. So in this sense, Rabbi Shafran is correct. But is this really unity? Here is how he put it in an oped for JTA
In this world of precious little Jewish unity, of fragmentariness and fractiousness, in addition to a celebration of accomplishment and perseverance, the event is a manifestation of Jewish unity, bringing together Jews of many stripes. 
This is where I part company with Rabbi Shafran. The Siyum held by Agudah is not a manifestation of unity any more than the recent Asifa at Citifield was. Yes many non Agudists will be attending. Jews of all stripes will be there just as they have in the past. I attended one of those myself – the 10th Siyum at Madison Square Garden. Which is when I finished my first cycle.

Does broadly based attendance alone show unity? I would argue that it does not.
First let me clearly say that Agudah has every right to be proud of this achievement. They are indeed the ones who started the project and have done whatever they could to promote and facilitate it. They have also set up and organized the Siyum and invited all to attend without regard to their Hashkafos.
But they cannot fully lay claim to all the numbers. I doubt for example that the Shiur given by R’ Linzer of YCT would consider itself under Agudah’s Daf Yomi umbrella.  Nor would Agudah want to include it. Especially since YCT’s dean Rabbi Avi Weiss has been “expelled” from Orthodoxy by  them.

But that isn’t all. It is also upsetting that there is a virtual boycott not only of YCT, but of even Yeshiva University (YU). There is nothing unifying about a group of Charedi Roshei Yeshiva or Chasidic Rebbes talking about unity when this is far from the case. To the best of my knowledge (and if past is prologue) there will not be a single Rosh Yeshiva from YU addressing the event. Nor will any be sitting on the front dais.

The claim that YU Roshei Yeshiva have in the past sat on the dais is disingenuous. Yes - one or more of YU’s Rosehei Yeshiva were seated on a back dais along with hundreds of other Rabbanim. But calling that a dais doesn’t give honor to a YU Rosh Yeshiva sitting there any more than it would to Rav Aharon Schechter, or Rav Matisyahu Salomon if they had been seated there.

In my view even sitting on the front dais is not enough. At least one Rosh Yeshiva from YU should speak representing that segment of Orthodoxy. But there will be no such speaker. That will not however stop them from claiming unity of all Orthodox factions by dint of the attendees.

I have in the past been told by some ‘people in the know’ that the reason YU Roshei Yeshiva will never be invited to speak or even sit on the main dais is because some or the more right wing Roshei Yeshiva or Chasidic Rebbes would not attend. So in effect that would be “disunifying” – trading in one constituency for another. They want that constituency. They don’t want to see a boycott by those to their right.

I say rubbish! If one wants to claim unity then leaders representing all segments of Orthodoxy should be invited sit on the main dais. If one or more from the right then boycotts it – it’s their problem. But catering to one constituency by dishonoring another is divisive and just plain wrong.

If Agudah wants to really be a uniter rather than a divider it should start by being all inclusive and invite a Rosh Yeshiva from YU to address the crowd that evening. And to stop being bullied by those to their right. It was this kind of thinking that led to the Great Asifa at Citifield being turned on its head – and nothing like it was advertised to be. 

I re-issue my call to Agudah: Invite a Rosh Yeshiva from YU to address the crowd. If that is not done, the Daf Yomi Siyum will no more represent unity than does a Minyan consisting of 5 Satmar Chasidim and 5 Religious Zionists. Being in one room together - even for the same purpose - does not define unity despite any claims to the contrary. Those who attend the Siyum should remember that as they listen to speakers making  those lofty claims.